‘I’m only going to eat animals I kill myself’: Q&A with Louise Gray, author of ‘The Ethical Carnivore’

Foreword from Listen to the World

The discussion between meat-eater and vegetarian/veganism (we know the differences, don’t worry) in terms of food regarding animal rights and/ or environment is a never-ending debate. But there’s an alternative argument that differs from both mentioned above.

Louise Gray is a meat-eater; but instead of eating meat from factory, she only eats meat from animals she kills herself, underlining the importance of living closer to nature and working hard to get what we need. Let’s call her lifestyle ethical carnivore. You can find her interview below, but before that let’s discuss a bit more about the issue.

What vegetarians and ethical carnivores do is morally attempt indeed, yet they’re not the solutions we need.

To challenge both arguments, it’s necessary if we first define what it is to be living things. In biology, an organism that reproduces, grows, and need food is a living thing. Our cells do reproduce, grow, and need food (called Phagocytosis). Thus, if cells are living things, then everything we eat are also living things (including vegetation); making it unavoidable for us to eat without killing; that is unless vegetarians and/ or ethical carnivores have a different definition regarding the living things.

Second, let’s define food. Human has food preferences; edible and also delectable – doesn’t matter either it’s vegetation or meat. Therefore, in the long run we won’t be able to avoid the exploitation of specific natural resources that will lead to imbalance in nature. On the other hand, as a whole, animals and vegetation don’t have food preferences. They eat everything and anything, a food chain. That’s why, in nature animals and vegetation –unless disturbed – don’t overpopulate.

But human does overpopulate. Hate it or love it, meat factory exist to answer overpopulation. The difference between meat factory-eater, ethical carnivore, and vegetarian only lies in the number of eaters. Now, could you imagine when 7.6 billion of us become vegetarian or ethical carnivore? The results will be the same as the meat factory-eater we are today. Vegetarian and ethical carnivore arguments mentioned above was derived from ethics indeed; but at the end of the day they still avoid and ignore the fact that overpopulation is the root of all problems. That is why; the primal question remains “do we have a solution for that?”

This is how Sacred Bridge Foundation sees the issue regarding what to eat. How about you?


‘I’m only going to eat animals I kill myself’: Q&A with Louise Gray, author of ‘The Ethical Carnivore’


Organic, Humane, Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Sustainable, Free Range — there are as many food labels today as there are ways to skin a cat.

And yet, can we be sure that as we wipe the plate after seared scallops we are not wiping the ocean floor of its plants and corals? What sleight of hand really distinguishes humane from cruel? And how much deforested land does it take to make a steak?

These are some of the questions that Louise Gray set out to answer in her 2016 book “The Ethical Carnivore: My Year Killing to Eat.” A former environment correspondent for the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph, Gray writes that she was “only too aware of the impact factory farming was having on the planet and the need to cut down on meat.”

To get as close as possible to the action, she writes, “the only logical thing to do seemed to be to only eat animals I had killed myself.”

Over a course of two years adhering to her inconvenient diet, she dispatched, among others, 12 mussels, six American signal crayfish, 12 mackerel, a pollock, three pheasants, three rabbits, a sheep, a squirrel, and a red deer.

At risk of being branded an atavistic and unnecessary exploration of how we as humans gather our food in the modern age, Gray’s travels took her across the U.K. to dissect the ethical and environmental quandaries of factory-farmed meat. She also sought an understanding of those still in search of wild quarry.

Along the way, she discovered the hunting organizations in pursuit of conservation; she ate roadkill; and she broke the lesser-known secret about Sir Peter Scott, founding father of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), whose passion for protecting the environment was born out of a love of shooting wildfowl.

Mongabay recently talked with Gray about her unusual year, the paradox of being a hunter who cares about animal welfare, and her new adventures in service to the humble vegetable.

Louise Gray, with dog, after making her first squirrel kill. “The Scottish Wildlife Trust is controlling the population of grey squirrels in Dumfries and Galloway to stop the animals taking over the habitat where reds also live,” writes Louise in a blogpost. Image by Louise Gray.

Mongabay: Where did the idea for “The Ethical Carnivore: My Year Killing to Eat” come from?

Louise Gray: I was working as the environment correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, and I was writing about climate change every day. I knew what a serious situation we’re in — it’s pretty scary — so I wanted to do my bit and reduce my footprint.

I knew the easiest thing I could do is to stop eating meat. But then, I often come to the countryside and meet people who raise animals. I thought that was ethical meat, and I didn’t have a problem with it. So I thought, well, if I only want to eat that kind of meat I really have to understand where it’s com[ing] from.

So, I’m only going to eat animals I kill myself.

I understand that you grew up on a farm. What was your relationship to meat-eating at a young age?

I didn’t really think about it, to be honest, because it was just a part of our life and our culture. We ate meat. I was always really interested in animal welfare, and was a RSPCA [Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] Junior member. I understood meat as being eaten by humans, and I took it for granted as a child. It was only really when I became an adult that I started to question that.

This is one of the interesting points, almost dilemmas, at the heart of the book: you’re somebody who cares for animal welfare, cares for the planet. But there will be environmentalists who might see your decision to kill animals yourself as, perhaps, unnecessary.

Yes. That’s where the book started from — if I were an environmentalist I ought not to eat any meat. I say all throughout the book that, if you want to have a light footprint, the easiest thing you can do is be vegan. But my job as a journalist is to fully investigate things.

[Veganism] didn’t answer my questions about how the landscape of Britain is managed, about marginal areas where nothing else can be grown. I suppose it was also a philosophical question, because I didn’t think that people who ate meat were necessarily bad people.

In the book, there’s this chap Steve who teaches you to hunt your first rabbit. He’s a seasoned gamekeeper; he’s been doing this his whole life. To somebody standing on the sidelines they might think, “Well, this guy must just not really care about animals.” But you go looking for a lost rabbit you shot, and when you bring it to him later at the pub, he starts to cry.

To say he doesn’t care, I’d find that preposterous about someone like Steve who spends all day outside managing animals. For someone sitting in an office, who can afford to go and eat vegan protein every day, to criticize someone like Steve — I just don’t see that as a good reflection of reality. I think that Steve is really connected with wildlife; he’s just doing it in a different way.

We’re interacting [with nature] all the time. If you think you have a perfect relationship with it, where you don’t have any impact, well you’re only having a lighter one — you’re still a human on this Earth.

At one point in the book you write of the U.K.: “If anyone can save the salmon, it’s the anglers.” What brings you to this conclusion?

There’s a [U.K.] charity called the Angling Trust, which does an enormous amount of work. Like if there’s pollution in the river, they will chase the Environment Agency and make sure that people are fined. The fishermen are watching the river and understanding it.

Salmon fishermen don’t take meat anymore — they haven’t for a long time. They’re really there to enjoy it and preserve the rivers. I think it’s a very clear example of the hunter protecting the hunted.

Editor’s note: The Angling Trust has encouraged the catch and release of wild salmon; the U.K. Environment Agency reported that anglers released 79 percent of caught salmon in 2015.

Author Louise Gray, with her first deer kill in the Scottish Highlands. She writes: “Although red deer are a native species, they would never usually have existed in such high numbers. Tree regeneration is suffering as a result of their browsing.” Image by Louise Gray.

There’s quite a tradition in England of gamekeeping. You mention certain reports in the book — one was “The Value of Shooting,” and the other “The Code of Good Shooting Practice” — and you talk about how they bring money into conservation and also encourage the reporting of poorly managed estates. How does this compare to angling?

You know what, I would say that, unlike angling, pheasant shooting is manufactured. People put the birds down [import them for release on an estate]. The British Association for Shooting and Conservation and others do try to make sure that the sport doesn’t have a big impact [on] the landscape. But, actually, since I’ve written the book it’s becoming clear that a lot of estates and farms aren’t keeping to [guidelines].

It is a problem in the U.K. A big problem. There are too many pheasants, and it’s not good for wildlife. I always knew that [gamekeeping] was a difficult thing to bring into the book. I wanted to investigate it because I find it quite interesting socially and culturally. But I do see it as problematic for conservation.

One day you go wildfowling — there’s a film about it by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation. In the film you talk about Sir Peter Scott, who was the founder of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, the founding father of the World Wide Fund for Nature, and was vice president of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. He was a wildfowling enthusiast. What does his legacy mean to conservation

Obviously, he’s done a huge amount — he set up the WWF. But not a lot of people know about the WWT, and that organization does a huge amount as well not only in the U.K., where it looks after lands where wading birds live, but also in countries like China where they’re helping to bring wetlands back to life. He set up two very powerful charities, which continue to do a lot [for conservation] today. He inspired a lot of people — he was a huge inspiration for David Attenborough.

His own past as a keen wildfowler … I think he loved being out in that environment, and perhaps as a young man he loved the shooting. But ultimately he loved the environment most, and he stopped the wildfowling in his later life because he realized that there wasn’t enough [wildfowl] for him to continue doing it.

I do think what’s really interesting about it for conservation nowadays is how Sir Peter Scott isn’t celebrated, or it’s not mentioned, concerning his link with wildfowling. There’s quite an absolute line between conservation organizations and organizations where people are hunting and shooting and fishing.

A lot of [hunters] are really involved in the landscape, and not just in England, but all around the world. There are developing countries where people still live off the land, and meat is how they interact with animals as a part of their life, and a part of conservation. I think it’s really important to talk about it. A lot of people living in cities have this lovely idea of nature [but forget] we’re a part of nature. We’re in it. And we have to admit that when we’re thinking about how we can better protect it.

In a film with the BASC, Louise Gray gets her first taste of wildfowling — an activity for which WWF founder Sir Peter Scott was also “keen.”

If it’s not eating meat where you draw an environmental line in the sand, where then is that line?

I’m afraid the line isn’t that clear cut. I would say buy high welfare meat, and don’t eat a lot of meat, but I can’t say there is a certain label on food that can guarantee all your meat comes from an animal that has a pleasant, happy life. There are risks involved in eating meat, and I think you have to face up to that.

I think that knowledge is where I draw the line. You have to have knowledge about what you’re eating. It makes people eat a lot less meat naturally — and it lasts.

I’ve read you are working on a new book about the ethics of fruit and vegetable cultivation. Are you only eating things you harvest yourself?

Nice idea, but I would starve! I am growing my own vegetables in an allotment as part of my exploration of the ethics of fruits and vegetables. But I am an amateur gardener, so it is merely to feed into the story and to learn about horticulture. The focus of my exploration is again going to be where the fruit and veg comes from that we buy in the supermarket, as I feel that is most important.


This article was originally published on Mongabay. Read the original article

A Separation of Insult and Criticism

[Jakarta, LTTW] In January 10, 2018, Joko Widodo along with the government and Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat or the People’s Representative discussed a bill that contains a law that prohibits people from insulting the President. This proposed regulation titled Rancangan Kitab Hukum Undang-Undang Pidana (RKHUP) is a revision attempt for the existing law, the bill of Indonesian Criminal Code.

If we look at article 263 section (1), a person who publicly insults the President or Vice President will be sentenced to jail with a maximum of 5 (five) years or pay a fee. The bill sparked criticism, dubbed controversial by some, because it limits people’s freedom to express and criticize in the democratic nation.

As reported by Kompas.com, the Chief of Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR), Erasmus Napitupulu said the bill must be erased because it could be utilized as a repression tool by the government. Andreas Marbun as Head Division of Legal Policy in Indonesian People’s Court Watch from University of Indonesia writes in Tempo.co, arguing that the bill is opposed to the nation’s constitution. It seemingly revives the Dutch Indies colonial law which then sent one of Indonesian founding fathers, Ki Hajar Dewantara into prison for writing a critical script and published in De Express newspaper titled Jika Saya Seorang Belanda (If I Were A Dutchman).

“Penghinaan,” or insult in English, is written in the bill. To know the meaning is the first path to understanding; being able to separate between insult and criticism is a must, if one wishes to avoid misconception. In the dictionary, insult means to treat with insolence, indignity, or contempt; it can also mean to affect offensively or damagingly – without responsibility and often irrelevancy. Discordantly, criticize means to consider the merits and demerits of and judge accordingly; indicate the act of finding or pointing out the faults. It also needs to be well pondered, in a wider term, that criticism is in the domain of self-awareness that gazes and evaluates one’s personal viewpoint. With this process, criticism brings constructive value and also elevate people’s consciousness to improve not others, but themselves first.

The two differ in definition; if insult can be seen a destructive offense, to criticize is to give a constructive fact-based judgment. Regarding the bill, ideally it would only prosecute those who insult the executive leaders of the nation. The emphasis on “insult” is written on the bill and the word “criticize” is nowhere to be found.

Concerns arise when there is no definite meaning of insult in the bill and no explanation of what constitute as an insult and what does not. A clear line of separation for both concepts must first be concluded by the government and must be clear in the bill.

The Consensus of Separation

In reality, a separation of insult and criticism are not as simple as what the dictionary can define. Insult could also contain truth and facts, making it as a criticism with harsher delivery in some terms such as intonation and chosen words. Sometimes it can also be hurtful and even hostile when someone makes these fact-based insults to others — blurring and seemingly combining both definitions.

The freedom to insult Presidents and governments do happen in other democratic countries. One perfect example would be The United States of America which protect and enact freedom of speech in The First Amendment of their constitution, a consensus that make ways for voices to be delivered; from criticism, insults, nonsense, and some combinations of the three. Donald Trump as the current President of USA would know this. Insults have been made since he announced his bid for presidency and have gotten worse since he was voted and crowned as Uncle Sam’s number one man. From fact-based criticism to pure insults, it keeps coming in and no law could interfere those who taunt and heckle the nation’s leader.

In the context of Indonesia, separating what is criticism and what is insult must be made as clear as possible. Aside from the consensus that the government made, it is also important for the people to agree on the same definition with them or each other — A consensus from parties to shape and define which is which.

Whether Indonesia need a law that bans insult is necessary or not is up for debate. But the main question is, can a consensus be made with the agreement of all parties in Indonesia?



The Enigma of Burning Yourself Alive

by Bramantyo Indirawan

In Ben Arous, Tunisia, Tarek-el Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi stood in front of the local governor’s office after a policewoman confiscated his fruit cart and also gave him a beating. What came next was a phenomenon that startled the world; igniting revolution and the will of social change.

Bouazizi covered himself in fuel and lit a match, burned himself alive on December 17, 2010. The 26 year old was one of the street vendors that had to pay 3 dinars of extortion everyday to sell his goods; a “lucky” one compared to many who are jobless. On the  day he committed suicide, Bouazizi could not bribe the authorities that then led to a conflict that costed him his earning. On January 4, 2011, the Sidi Bouzid born man finally died in Ben Arous Burn and Trauma Centre —  18 days after his suicide attempt.

Desperation came after the authority rejected the demand in getting his belongings back. With much dismay, the effect was powerful. The self immolation of Bouazizi triggered revolution that eventually created the Arab Spring in the Middle East. It all started in Tunisia when the 23 year rule of President Zile El Abidine Ben Ali finally ended after massive protests and even violent riots. When the unrest broke out government responded with stick and carrot approach, ranging from repression, arrests, internet shutdown to massive job offers.

It was too late, and the Tunisian Revolution went out on a full scale when protests and violence continued. On 14 January 2011, Ben Ali and his family fled to Saudi Arabia — marked the assurance of the government overthrow. Such revolution generated the domino effect of uprisings across the region, started from Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Syria, Morocco to Mauritania.

It was inconceivable that the Arab Spring was precipitated by a street vendor who burned himself alive. Suicide has its reasons;  from illness, philosophical choice, to an atonement of honor like what I have mentioned before in Sword to the Stomach: Seppuku and the Case of Altruistic Suicide.

Self immolation can’t be pinned down to one reason, because it differs from one persons motive to another. While seppuku came from a long line of history and culture, the act of burning yourself alive doesn’t have any established rule. So what are the causes that made a person willingly burn himself or herself to death?

Ablaze in Cause & Effect

Written in a grey marble grave, the green Arabic scripture can be translated to ‘Martyr Mohamed Bouazizi. Peace in his life. And in the next life, have peace as well.’

Truth be told, the martyr didn’t even know what his action would bring to Tunisia and beyond. When setting himself ablaze; Bouazizi was in desperation. What we can found out in stories, interviews, or eyewitness testimony leads to one particular reason that is economy.

As a backbone who provides for his big family, Bouazizi’s frustration can be seen as an exit or a bold protest that goes to the point of no return. It is safe to say that the simple fruit seller burned himself without an agenda to overthrow the government. The economic reason of a man who kills himself triggers the climax for the nation’s social inequality, a catalyst of revolution with no political intention whatsoever — an accidental martyr.

There are cases where people willingly lit themselves on fire to make a political statement. A perfect example would be Thích Quảng Đức, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who burned himself alive in the intersection of Saigon, Vietnam. The year was 1963 when Quảng Đức gave his protest against the persecution of Buddhist by the Catholic Diem regime in 1963. The self immolation was later immortalized by a powerful photo of the burning monk who sits peacefully.

Self-immolation with social and political reasoning happens throughout the modern age. After Quảng Đức thought provoking protest, there are those who imitate his way to deliver a political message. Norman Morisson from Pennsylvania, U. S., burned himself in 1965 to protest the Vietnam War and Jan Palach from Prague, Czezhcoslovakia set himself ablaze in 1968 to protest the invasion of Soviet Union.

What made Bouazizi different is his motives. Although he represented the Tunisian people, and did not plan anything, the fruit seller changed the social political climate indirectly. The other self-immolating individuals mentioned above had political motives right from the start, thus separating Bouazizi’s act from political “sacrifice”.

To some extent, Bouazizi act of self-immolation can be explained by Emile Durkheim theory of suicide. There are four causes of suicide in the sociologist viewpoint; egoistic that comes from a lack of belonging within a community, altruistic that happens because of highly socialized individuals and value the needs of community, anomic that lacks the regulation of individual in society, and fatalistic that position individuals in excessive moral regulation by society.

With these definitions, we can conclude that the cause of self-immolation can relate to altruistic and fatalistic suicide. In Bouazizi case, fatalistic describes it well. This type of suicide happens because of oppression, placing the policewoman and Tunisian government as the oppressor. Excessive regulation leads to a choice that ends in flames for the simple man.

Some self-immolation cases can be altruistic if they are fully aware of what they do carry a good cause they truly believe in that also happens to be the concern of society; a social or political role that eventually benefit others.

The aforementioned three self-immolation event in the sixties can be concluded as altruistic suicide since the three men took a conscious decision that will cost his own life in the name of other people well being.

What Durkheim didn’t explain is the aftermath of a suicide. Although Bouazizi’s reason behind his fatalistic suicide was a way to escape, what happens after he died was arguably the effect of an altruistic suicide. An accidental sacrifice that  connects with the people through representation of frustration  — a combination of both when the oppressed shared the same fate and connects in the altruistic ideals.

A Self Inflicting Violence

Tunisia has a majority of Muslim population that reach 99 percent including Mohamed Bouazizi, a man with a name taken from the prophet Muhammad. Although suicide  is condemned in Islam, his act did not harm anyone in the process.

He visually stunned people with violence at its worst, causing hysteria and provoking minds without physically hurting others. In contrast, there are people or groups who justify suicide bombing in the name of religion, hurting and killing people. According to Chicago Project on Security & Threats, there are about 5,430 suicide bombing attacks that kill 55,022 people since 1982 to 2016.

In the Islamic viewpoint, self-immolation and suicide attack are a fallacy that goes against the core values of religion. Cheating death is a sin and both phenomenon started with a will to kill themselves. But when we look to the external world, it differs significantly. One limits the agonizing death to his or herself and the other takes along casualties — terrorizing and inflicting fear.

Self-immolation can be complex, it’s a self inflicting violent suicide that has multiple purpose depending on the one who execute it. If we dissect the word origin, “immolation” originally meant sacrifice. Later on, the definition added the role of fire. In Merriam-Webster dictionary, self-immolation is defined as a deliberate and willing sacrifice of oneself often by fire.

The “sacrifice” that burns violent flames gets passed on from generation to generation with its own purpose. From Hindu customs such as sati that made widows burn themselves in her husband funeral pyre, Russian orthodox known as Soshigateli that enact “fire baptism”, monks that protest by self-immolation, to Bouazizi that lit a fire in desperation.

Bouazizi self-immolation is a reenactment of past practices like Quảng Đức did in the sixties that spark other protests, and a 49 year old restaurant owner Abdel-Moneim Jaafar who burned himself before the Egyptian Parliament in January 28, 2011 that led to Hosni Mubarak’s resignation.  A second coming spreads from the Middle East that include the same act by Mohsen Bouterfif, Maamir Lotfi, and Abdelhafid Boudechicha in Tunisia. Sadly enough, however, the following events do not have the powerful effect as the “first” ones, in fact, most ended up as the anti-climax.

There are still voices unheard. In Indonesia, Sondang Hutagalung committed suicide by self-immolation as a protest to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono government. The 22 year old law school student was reportedly disappointed by the human rights violation and wanted a change.

On 7 December, 2011 Sondang burned himself in front of the Presidential Palace and died three days after. Unlike Tunisia, Indonesia stayed the same without significant change. When burning yourself won’t change anything, what does it take to be heard?


Source: Tom Chesshyre, A Tourist in the Arab Spring (2013), Emile Durkheim, Le Suicide (1897), On Iar-gwu.org, Foreignpolicy.com, Washingtonpost.com, Aljazeera.com, Newyorker.com, Uchicago.edu, E-ir.info, Time.com, Globalvoices.com

Women Against the Odds

[Jakarta, LTTW] First thing first, although a little late, Happy International Women’s Day! It is very important for us to mull over and appreciate the role of women in establishing and nurturing human’s life in the frame of equality. The last estimate from World Bank (2017) suggests that the percentage between the number of women and men is more or less equal: 49.6% women and 50.4% men. However, in terms of the role and involvement in formal employment, women are still minorities, especially in the Middle East. Apart from being outnumbered, women often receive unfair treatment in the workplace, be it in terms of income, appreciation, and recognition.

Gender inequality is actually a ridiculous notion; how could mankind be able to build a life without the existence of women? Not only is it ridiculous, gender inequality should have never existed in the first place. We should be appalled and amazed to see the patience and tenacity of women in facing this life. Amidst injustice (and also danger), women will always have their own warriors who relentlessly fight for changes, for mankind. They are the dual minority with the heart of steel who envision a better future .

Women Activists: Risking Their Lives Above All Else

The world is dealing with numerous unpleasant events such as war, refugee crisis, terrorism, mass killing, education system that has been moving away from ethics, famine, and environmental degradation due to human activities. It is not surprising if many have said the “civilization is crumbling.” To respond those issues, many women have stepped in and acted. Yes, act! That’s why they are called activists. Principally, there are two things that one must understand to define activism. First, direct action. It means one would act voluntarily by directly countering the issue at hand. Quoting Sacred Bridge Foundation Chairman, Serrano Sianturi, changes can only happen on the ground, underlining the importance of “doing real things.”

The second, they do it for the greater good. An activist fights for others, to fix all things that she/he deems not right and harm many people. Therefore, becoming an activist means becoming a minority, because not everyone would “sacrifice” their life for the sake of others. Becoming an activist demands a great sense of care and courage. Many of them have to “sacrifice” their entire life, some even ended tragically.

Bertha Caceres (1972-2016) and Gauri Lankesh (1962-2017) are two of the daring activists who lost their life because of the idealism that they fought for. Bertha Caceres, a Honduran environmental and indigenous activist was murdered because she stood in the way between the government and multinational companies in the transaction of the land belonging to her ancestors. Gauri Lankesh, an Indian activist and independent journalist was murdered because she bravely fought and criticized the far-right wing of Hindu Nationalist in India.

Another risk-taking activist is Norma Andrade, a Mexican, who has fought against human trafficking run by big cartels. Her loud voice gave her a few bullets in her body. Norma Andrade was a mother whose daughter was kidnapped and eventually killed by cartels. With her bravery, she fights relentlessly against those cartels so no one would be their next victim . No one could have stopped her – even the world joins her in the combat against the cruel cartels. These are the reasons why we wrote about women activists. Let’s be honest, being dual minority, doing double job (working and being moms), and facing danger at the same time have put them in an extreme situation in which most of us would not dare to enter.

Their legacy and aspirations have both directly and indirectly inspired many young women who also take their path. One of them is Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani young activist awarded by the prestigious Noble Prize for her courage in fighting for the rights of women and children to go to school amid the no-mercy attitude of the draconian Taliban regime. Besides Malala, there are more young activists who also battle for a greater good.

The Young Generation

Tahani Salih

A portrait by Tri Prasetyaningtyas

Mosul, Iraq, has been overwhelmed with problematic matters. Not only has the city been under the control of IS for three years, but this place also gives very little space for women to speak and express their opinions.

Tahani Salih, 27, is a young activist from Mosul who tirelessly confronts those issues. Trained and supported by Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) – one of the new groups of Mosulite activists – Tahani Salih held a cultural event not long after IS was defeated. This event was aimed to rebuild the hopes of Mosul, as well as to rekindle the spirit of Mosulites to regain freedom, hopes, and dreams. This event offered variety of programs, from the restoration of Mosul University Library, painting exhibition, music performance, photography, festival and cross-gender soccer tournament. She also empowers women to stand up and speak out. As quoted by BBC, Tahani claimed, “People need to know that being a girl is not shameful.” She also argues that the culture of fear and repression is “the very condition that helped IS come in.”

Sacred Bridge Foundation (SBF), a not-for-profit organization focusing on cultural cultivation, views that human empowerment is often overlooked. When it took part in Aceh rehabilitation after the devastating tsunami in 2005, it saw that most organizations gave their supports in terms of the tangibles – food and drinks, medicines, shelters, restoring damaged buildings, and so on. Realizing that these tangible needs had been fulfilled, SBF decided to focus itself in exercising psycho-therapeutic healing for the survivors so that they can start establishing a strong sense of self-reliance despite their suffering. Utilizing Acehnese own cultural wisdom and manifestations, the organization reintroduced and reconnected the survivors with their precious roots to develop sensibility and (re)discover their history, identity, and enshrouded vernacular knowledge – an attempt that was later proven instrumental.

Sonita Alizadeh

In Middle East, gender inequality remains the part of women’s life. This is why women are considered as “property” rather than men’s counterpart. It’s no surprise if marriage turns out to be a “business” transaction.

Take a look at what happened to Sonita Alizadeh, a rapper from Afghan. She was yet to be 18 years young when she was almost “sold” by her family so they could raise money for her brother’s wedding. She bravely rebelled; the last rap song entitled “Brides for Sale” is her way to protest the situation. To this day, Sonita keeps on fighting her battle to eliminate forced marriage and child marriage culture.

Sonita Alizadeh shows us the role of arts in society; how art is “alive”, and influential to our life. Sonita has yet to change the world through her music, but she had managed to transform her family’s point of view on forced marriage. That’s actually how arts work: it starts from the inner circle, then gradually expanding. There are other senior women activists that also work in music, namely Joan Baez, Ani DiFranco,  Riot Grrrl Movement, and Beverly Bond.

In our view, art is, and shall ever be political (see “Music is an Art because it’s Political”). Art, in its many forms, has been born due to challenge socio-political events. Music genres such as rock, punk, grunge, and breaking emerged as the musical manifestations of society’s shared critical responses toward unsound and degrading political mores.

Payal Jangid

A portrait by Tri Prasetyaningtyas

In Rajasthan village, India, poor families often prefer to send their underage children into marriage instead of to school. A 17-year old Payal Jangid has had every intention to change that. She has actively advocated children’s rights to combat child marriage through education. Her routine includes visiting families to educate them about the importance of education to parents. Payal Jangid efforts finally came to fruition; the villagers heard her and turned to support her. In fact, more and more adults would come to her if ever needed advice. Together with adults and children, she has turned the village into a child-friendly one.

To our parent organization, the solemn mission of education is to materialize the ideals, thus people from early age need to be equipped with morality, courage, uncompartmentalized knowledge and proper skills so that they will be capable of bouncing back and rising above any occasion.  

Melati & Isabel Wijsen

A portrait by Tri Prasetyaningtyas

A study conducted by NOAA/Woodshole Sea Grant suggests that it takes more or less 450 years for a plastic bottle to degrade. Unfortunately, plastic has become an everyday item and people treat them as if they are easily broken down. Now, plastic has overwhelmed our planet, both on land and ocean. Bali, the Island of Gods, is no exception.

Melati and Isabel Wijsen are sisters from Bali, Indonesia. They managed to bring the government of Bali to sign the free plastic bags program in the region that is expected to be in effect this year. It all began when they ran a campaign titled “Bye Bye Plastic Bags” in 2013. They invited people of their age to clean up the beach from plastic bags, started an online and offline petition to say no to plastic bags. They also visited schools to promote the use of alternative materials for bag such as paper, net, and other organic materials made by local craftsmen. They even went as far as having a hunger strike. Let’s not looking just at their today’s accomplishment, let us observe and re-question what was actually their greatest achievement in this matter? Well, it is what makes activism exist in the first place: assemble conscience and courage to take the first step of action.

Based on our observation in recent years, Bali urgently needs this kind of initiative, since we have noticed a growing trend that one day may wipe one of (ancestral) environment-friendly qualities in Balinese culture. Prior to their holy “Seclusion Day”, Balinese undertake a ritual to exorcise evil spirits. People parade the streets with giant puppets made of used and degradable materials found in their neighborhoods. These puppets are disposed, with no designated area, as soon as the parade is over; it’s quite OK since the materials are easily degraded.

The making of the puppets is in itself a social ritual in which everyone in the neighborhood participates anyway they can. Today, such ritual begin to disappear. Their modern day jobs in making a living limit their availability to do so. Outsourcing is the solution. The puppet making is “subcontracted” to commercial contractors. As a result, most puppets they produce are made of Styrofoam, a material that would need a few centennials to decompose. Now that’s a different ball game! So Bali certainly needs more activists like Melati and Isabel Wijsen.

The BuSSy Project

A portrait by Tri Prasetyaningtyas

Tahani Salih challenge gender inequality by organizing cultural events, while Sonita Alizadeh uses music as her means of protest.

Let’s check out BuSSy, a performing arts project originated in Egypt in which storytelling is utilized as a means to combat gender inequality and other social issues. This Art Project includes workshops and storytelling performances in which people can tell their horrifying experiences that happened to them like rape, discrimination, forced marriage, honor killing, child abuse, and other eerie stories.

This Arts Project was initiated in 2006 by two students of American University of Cairo (AUC) who told their stories about growing up as women in Egypt. According to their website, “The monologues, which were by women, for women, exposed real women’s stories and provided a space for free expression on issues that society often failed to address.” In year 2010, BuSSy Project expanded its coverage by accommodating their space not only for women, but also men. This step was taken to cover both sides of the story.

Storytelling is indeed a powerful means. Similar to BuSSy Project, Afro-Americans had relied on storytelling to pass down their folklore to the next generation in the 16th/17th century slavery in the New Land of the Americas. They were not allowed to bring any possession from their native land such as musical instruments, clothes, etc. In this bitter period, folklore had become instrumental to African people because it was the only thing that they could “carry” (read: “The Church and Afro-American Music”). While BuSSy Project utilizes storytelling to open up, defeat injustice and voice identity, the African slaves utilized it to create a tranquil realm in the reality of inhumane slavery.

Mother: The Sacred Word and Role.

How would we imagine a world without a mother? The only picture we have is no doubt that there would be no world. Most women in the world would be mothers one day, including these young activists. According to Jakob Bachofen, a Swiss anthropologist, mother is the most primordial bond in human life. Mother also symbolizes the core of life; our planet is called Mother Earth, just in case you are not aware of it.

Mother represents and simultaneously exercises equal rights due to their natural unconditional love, regardless what gender her child is. Mother is also the most courageous being since they would do anything, including risking her life, in bringing up her child. Mother is an activist by nature; it’s a noble role necessary in human life, and a role forever unmatched by man.


English Translation by Riri Rafiani


Journalism: Juggling with Politics, Money & Technology

[Jakarta, LTTW] Journalism operates within the freedom of speech and freedom of the press principles. In doing so, there are ethics and code of conduct that must be followed. Covering all sides, fact-based, and seeking the truth are parts of the foundation on which journalism stands. Prior to the emergence of internet, information technology and widespread changes in political mores, journalism was the “authority” of what we call today as the conventional media.

During the Cold War, countries of the Eastern bloc and developing countries elsewhere were the enemies of journalism. At the time, many (if not most) regimes were allergic to journalism. Censorship, media ban, revoking publishing permit were familiar policies imposed on media. Several countries like China, Russia, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Burma are still practicing such policies. In this matter, nothing really changes.

As in any other sector, the media “industry” also consists of minor and major leagues. In the heyday of conventional media, the big players were considered as the ones who controlled the contents. Newspapers, TV Networks, and Magazines grew as giant media corporations holding strong political influence along with money to spend. So by being the flagship of freedom of the press and journalism and also prosperous, they had the power to choose what issues to expose, thus shaped public opinion. Today, this is not the case anymore.

State vs. Press

The State against the Press is nothing new, but the State banning a foreign state-funded Press was unprecedented prior to the shutting down of Al-Jazeera TV in Amman in August 8, 2002 by the Jordanian authority. The channel is accused of “provoking sedition in the kingdom” and “defaming” the royal family. Almost a decade later, the Egyptian government closed down Al-Jazeera for allegedly encouraging the country’s uprising. In August last year, Saudi Arabian government accused Al-Jazeera of inciting fundamentalism and separatism, supporting terrorism, and destabilizing political situation in the region. Not long after, the Israeli government blocks the Al-Jazeera’s news broadcast. The Israeli claims that the network supports terrorism, and is a tool of ISIS. The Israeli government is seeking a legal way to completely shut down Al-Jazeera operation in Israel.

Being impartial is essential in journalism, but the view is different from the political side, especially in countries or regions that do not practice the Western democracy. In the Arab world, where Monarchy and dictatorship are common practices, freedom of the press is not welcome. The perpetual distrust and conflicts among Arab countries add the difficulty for the press to be impartial; covering one side is most likely to be taken as opposing the other.

Al-Jazeera itself is a news broadcasting company sponsored by Qatar government. While state funded, Al-Jazeera considers itself as an alternative and independent network that not only challenges the mainstream narrative, but also serves as the voice for the unheard. Its claims include being impartial and covering all sides. Such claims are questionable when it comes to criticizing its owner. Qatar itself has been one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and is today’s one of the wealthiest. Although “more democratic” than its affluent neighbors – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates – Qatar is not a democratic republic; it’s an absolute Monarchy. Given such fact, promoting freedom of the press (through Al-Jazeera) can only take place outside of Qatar. This what makes Al-Jazeera’s credibility in journalism is under constant suspicion.

In recent years, the “battle” between the State and freedom of the press has happened not only in the Middle East and countries governed by dictatorial regimes, but also, alarmingly, in the United States. The narcissist “superstar” personality of President Trump apparently cannot stand criticism. Every single thing (either true or not) that he disapproves is countered by the now famous “fake news” label. This kind of “opposition” by the White House Administration to the media is unprecedented in the United States. The non-partisan press that was once a necessary counterpart is now an enemy of the State, particularly the President. While detesting the unbiased media, Trump is craving for the use of Twitter in his communication. Giving him a title as the King of Tweet seems appropriate to match his addiction to Twitter, or perhaps Twitter Junkie could serve as the alternative. In spite of whichever the title that suits him, the use of Twitter (and other social media) by the public has shaken the existence of conventional and mainstream media.

Social Media and Journalism

The internet has evolved significantly since its early commercial use in early 90s. The first phase of convergence involving computing, communication and information or content has gone far beyond what we could have imagine then. The later convergence involves cellular technology and electronics, while the form of contents expanded from text only to visual, audio and video, not to mention the immediacy in speed and interactivity as the result of streaming technology. E-commerce, Blog, Social networks, Maps & Location and iPhone were platforms born out of this second phase convergence, followed by features and applications as branches.

Such continuous and rapid development changes how people perceive and do things, including the way people view and practice the freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and also freedom of the press. Journalism, as one of the manifestations of such freedoms, is heavily challenged by these changes.

Social media activists and users claim that conventional media can no longer “control” the contents. Through the internet, may it be web-based or social networks, any individual or group can publish or share any information they have, including their views, opinions and knowledge. Their claim also include that journalism no longer solely belongs to the conventional and mainstream press media.

Although different in form, the number of readership, audience or called followers in social media is far beyond the reach of any mainstream media. Based on several surveys, all of the 10 Facebook accounts with most followers belong to individuals who are celebrities. For Twitter, there are only two non-individual accounts (YouTube and CNN) out of twenty with the most followers. The number of followers of these accounts range from 40 to over 100 millions!

The growing use and reach of web-based media and social networks has seized the audience of the conventional media; several old school newspapers and magazines had no choice but to transform themselves into on-line media. Those who endure, extend their services to on-line.

The battle between web-based service and social networks not only in readership, but also the idea of journalism. The new media is said to represent freedom of speech and expression, and for many, practicing these freedoms needs no boundary. Web-based media and social networks bow to one rule, i.e.: there is no rule. Journalism, on the other hand, believes in sets of ethics and rules. Taking no side, legitimate source, keeping off the records to themselves, guaranteeing the rights of the subject to respond, and correcting the mistakes are some of the doctrines practiced and safeguarded in journalism. Not all of mainstream media obey these rules, but such disrespect does not change the idea of journalism at all.

Freedom of speech and expression are not without boundary because freedom itself is bound to certain limitations and rules. Any act that fails to recognize and respect limitation is not a manifestation of freedom at all, it is an anarchy.

The New Billionaires and Mainstream Corporate Media.

Giant media corporation is not a new thing; it’s been with us since the early 20th century when two fierce competitors, William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer established their private newspapers in San Francisco and New York. In 1950s, an Australian-born Rupert Murdoch bought a network of newspapers that later grew and known as News Corp and 21st Century Fox, today’s second largest media group in the world. At the time, however, the founders of these media giants came from families with publishing and/or journalism background. They became billionaires by successfully running their media companies.

Today, there is a growing trend indicating that wealthy individuals coming from outside of media business are both investing and attacking the press media. When it comes to investing in media, many wander why these billionaires took such action amid the sizable “migration” of audience from conventional media to digital. People get even more puzzled when billionaires of highest calibre like Warren Buffett (of Berkshire Hathaway) bought Media General Inc., Jeff Bezos (of Amazon) acquired the Washington Post, and John Henry (of Boston Red Sox) purchased the Boston Globe; these billionaires are certainly no dummies. Well, it turned out that there are good reasons why they invested in these conventional media.

First, according to Newspaper Association of America, the revenue of newspapers in the US has grown with an average of over 3% since 2013. Then, they all believe that locality can never be replaced by the “global” web-based and social networks. Another reason is that they also believe that journalism is an institution, and essential in free society thus worth defending. So, there you have it.

On the other side, there are billionaires who are allergic to conventional and mainstream media. They simply hate what the media expose with regards to disapproved contents. Donald Trump filed a libel suit against Tim O’Brien of the New York Times who reported that the President’s developer business is only worth between U$ 15-250 million, not between U$1.5-2.5 billion as Trump repeatedly claimed. Peter Thiel (co-founder of PayPal) did the same thing to Gawker, by financing the retired professional wrestler Hulk Hogan in suing the media. Prior to Hulk Hogan’s case, Gawker exposed the fact that Peter Thiel was gay, something that Peter Thiel would like to keep it private. Another case involved Idaho’s billionaire, Frank VanderSloot; he filed libel suit against Mother Jones magazine for releasing a story about a pedophile camp counselor in Idaho Falls. Thiel and VanderSloot won the case, Trump did not, but he said that he files the suit just to make O’Brien’s life miserable.

It’s quite interesting to imagine how the court battle would be if Trump, Thiel, and VanderSloot filed suits against the media owned by Buffett, Bezos, and Henry. Billionaires against billionaires; it would be gladiators combat of the 21st century, wouldn’t it?